Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
The Raven’s Song is evidence of the range, quality and stimulating puzzles that may be found in current children’s fiction. Everything is far from straightforward. In a world that is 100 years from now, characters Shelby and Davy live on 700 hectares, carefully tended by its strictly numbered population of 350. Calculated as the ideal for sustainability, it is rigidly safeguarded. They regard the earth and all living natural things as ‘honoured’.
Clues are scattered so that a picture emerges of a vanished world which has been replaced by a low-tech small society that barters and is unaware of what once was an integral part of life: cars, machines, DVDs.
It is 100 years beyond our current century. It becomes evident that the population had been ravaged by a virus, Corvic 26, spread by ravens, and only AB blood types survived.
In desperation, some children were placed in a form of egg, in suspended animation, frozen until, it is hoped, a cure is found by scientists.
Phoenix and his family belong to the age of the virus. The book describes the children venturing beyond the 700 hectares’ perimeter, and later it becomes obvious that their investigating the ancient tree and the bog beneath it is where disaster, for them, struck. There are mysterious symbols such as feathers, ravens wearing red shoes, a carved pendant that generates both curiosity and deepening unease. A tragic outcome seems inevitable.
100 years later, Shelby and Davy wriggle through a fence hole on the pretext of investigating a lost sheep. They encounter a weird, wonderful and frightening world. An old hospital, in virtual ruin, overseen by a single very old man, contains rows of numbered eggs, in which the bodies of children are suspended – preserved by the cryogenic process.
All are named. Supplies to maintain this process have run out so the guardian of the small bodies is compelled to watch as one by one, they die.
One of the victims that emerges is Phoenix. Released into the atmosphere, he begins to degrade and ages decades in a brief space of time. He too dies but not before leading Shelby to the bog and tree where much of the puzzle is clearer.
The two authors skilfully handle a challenging topic and its plot. Climate crisis, the sacrifices that must be made to deal with this, and pictures of a life style that must become pared down, simple and basic in order for people and the life we share this planet with, to survive.
The publisher recommends The Raven’s Song is suitable for 9 to13-year-olds. There has to be reservations about this. A sensitive and highly imaginative child would find parts of the book to be very disturbing. The raven is a strange and menacing bird. There is a thin bedraggled old tiger that roams around – not a friendly image.
Hardest for some young people to confront are the horrors of a pandemic and the resulting death of children despite efforts to save their lives. Dark memories of Covid 19 may surface. On the other hand, there will be a band of readers who will be thrilled by the scarier aspects. Hopefully any fears can be assuaged, if needs be.
The optimistic message comes forth towards the end. Change can be difficult but can lead to better outcomes, and in the society of tomorrow, kindness gains supreme importance. Social media of course, has no presence there….
The Raven’s Song
by Bren MacDibble and Zana Fraillon
Allen and Unwin
ISBN 978 176106 578 9